Reviews

'Sucker Punch': Amped Up

The girls look striking and sexy while fighting robots and dragons in short skirts and piled-on makeup, sauntering into battle, guns in one hand and samurai swords in the other.


Sucker Punch

Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung, Carla Gugino, Oscar Isaac, Jon Hamm, Scott Glenn
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Warner Bros.
Year: 2011
US date: 2011-03-25 (General release)
UK date: 2011-04-01 (General release)
Website
Trailer

Zach Snyder made his mark with slick, graphic, borrowed imagery. Following his remake of Dawn of the Dead, he directed 300 and Watchmen, full of grandly cartoonish figures set against simultaneously harsh and vibrant backdrops. In these two films, based on comic books, Snyder showed a talent for transferring stories from page to screen, taking arresting still frames and making them move.

Sucker Punch is Snyder's first feature based on his own material: the story is his, the script co-written with Steve Shibuya. It begins when a villainous father-figure sends 20-year-old Babydoll (Emily Browning) to an asylum. Here she meets a tough-but-sexy quartet of chicks: like Babydoll, Rocket (Jena Malone), Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), and Amber (Jamie Chung) are all unjustly incarcerated. When they vow to escape together, their ensuing adventures are presented as ongoing fantasy sequences taking place in Babydoll's imagination.

While Sucker Punch's story isn't based on any one source, Snyder is still more of a borrower than a creator. The film includes ideas from Alice in Wonderland, Return to Oz, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and Kill Bill, among others. An unnamed wise man (Scott Glenn) offers counsel as a Kung Fu master, and even the musical stings are derivative, as the soundtrack mostly features covers of songs as opposed to the originals. Neither are the visuals always novel. In one sequence, set in a mashed-up version of World War II, Snyder invokes the shaky-camera aesthetic made popular by Paul Greengrass in Green Zone and the Bourne movies, and recently used by Jonathan Liebesman in Battle: Los Angeles.

That's not to say that there's nothing original about the film. Each of the fantasy sequences takes place in a different world, so that Snyder and his crew can conjure burning zeppelins flying over bombed-out cities, mechanical soldiers that bleed steam, monorails rocketing towards outer-space cities, and at least three different types of robots. These images are beautiful and powerful, and -- unlike those in his comic book films -- don't require a bright color palette to achieve their intense emotional effects. They do a lot with drab.

Snyder's ability to tell stories through pictures is most notable during a near wordless prologue. The scene is moody, dark, and expressive, and one of the most effective parts of the film. Unfortunately, Snyder introduces that prologue via a few lines of clunky voiceover. Let's just say, words are not his strength: the narration references angels who are "as fierce as any dragons," and other juvenile descriptions.

While the rest of the film's dialogue isn't quite so overbearing, it does include awkward moments. Dr. Gorski (Carla Gugino), a therapist at the asylum, uses an Eastern European accent straight out of Rocky and Bullwinkle for no express purpose. The wise man speaks in clichés, spouting inspirational catchphrases such as, "You've got to stand for something, or you'll fall for anything." And repeatedly, the music is similarly trite: Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" underscores Babydoll's similarities to Alice, and the Pixies' "Where Is My Mind" plays after a scene concerning lobotomies.

With so much emphasis on what's obvious and superficial, it's not surprising that the film doesn't delve deeply into characters. Though we follow five girls, two -- Amber and Blondie -- are mostly props. Sure, they all look striking and sexy while fighting robots and dragons in short skirts and piled-on makeup, sauntering into battle, guns in one hand and samurai swords in the other. Just don't ask why they're there or what they'll do if they ever gain their freedom.

The movie often brushes the girls' stories aside in favor of major battle sequences. Amped up and exciting, these images have all of the trademarks of Snyder's tricked-out style, slow motion at times and blended to look like long tracking shots at others. They're set to loud music. They take place in far-off worlds and they're incredibly fun. Much as the girls believe, escape into fantasy is its own reward.

6

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Music

Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?

Music

Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.

Music

IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.

Music

Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.

Film

NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.

Books

David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.

Music

David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.

Music

Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".

Music

Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.

Music

The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.